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Spike in cold, alcohol-related calls await paramedics NYE

Leeanna McLean
Digital News Reporter

Saturday, December 30, 2017, 7:13 PM - As record-breaking Arctic air floods into Ontario this New Year's Eve, paramedics are expecting a spike in cold injuries related to alcohol.

An extreme cold warning is in effect for much of the south, with windchill values near minus 30 likely as we ring in 2018.

"2017 is about to end with the coldest air of the year," says Environment Canada. "A trough of low pressure currently over southern Ontario will drop south of the Great Lakes tonight, opening the door to an even colder northerly wind."

Toronto Paramedic Services superintendent of operations Steve Krasl says it's best to avoid alcohol altogether if planning on spending time outdoors this New Year's Eve.

"Alcohol increases the blood flow throughout your body. The increased blood flow will contribute to body heat loss at a much greater rate when drinking any alcohol," he told The Weather Network. "As a result of that, frostbite may develop much quicker in a person who is intoxicated than someone who is not."

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In other words, it's best to hold off on that champagne until you are inside.

"With an extreme cold advisory in effect, I do expect to see more cold injuries related to alcohol, especially for someone that is so intoxicated that they pass out and are left outside in the elements," he said.

With temperatures in the minus 20s, it only takes about five minutes for frostbite to set in to any exposed skin. Meanwhile, hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below 35oC. This is a big health concern for our homeless population, explained Krasl.

Toronto council approved a plan in early December to spend $10.6 million to add 400 new beds to the city's shelter system. During extreme cold episodes, Krasl said paramedics see an increase in hypothermia-related calls for the homeless by concerned citizens.

"When we do arrive and see that this person is suffering from a cold injury we will treat them and bring them to the hospital."

The homeless, elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are particularly vulnerable when it comes to extreme cold.

"It's important if you have any elderly relatives living on their own to have a quick check on them to make sure they are doing OK," said Krasl.

If you notice early signs of frostbite (numbness, red/white/bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin, hard or waxy-looking skin) or hypothermia (shivering, slurred speech, shallow breathing, weak pulse, drowsiness, confusion) in your loved ones or yourself, the first thing to do is get out of the cold.

"Get into some place warm, preferably above 21oC. Remove any wet clothing, wrap yourself in blankets and stay inside until you are warm. Drinking warm beverages will help as well."

It's advised to dress in layers if you choose to partake in outdoor activities. Ensure your outer layer is windproof and cover any exposed skin. Wear a hat, gloves or mittens, and warm boots. Choose wool or synthetic fabrics for clothing instead of cotton, as the material will absorb and retain any moisture.

The extreme cold is expected to persist for southern Ontario into New Year's Day and potentially Tuesday.

Stay warm and play safe!

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